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Peace is coming

I am basically an optimistic person. I see the glass half-full. Where others see problems, I see opportunities. When I was in the legislature, I always viewed public service as a chance to do something good rather than be petrified by the enormous challenges of governing.

It is for this reason that I believe we have our best chance to achieve peace in our country under the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

I know skeptics would say that this is illusory, given the fact that the current insurgency has been going on for 47 years. And despite efforts by previous administrations to reach a politically negotiated settlement with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), peace has proven quite elusive.

But my optimism is not wishful thinking. Just last week, I read news reports of a “final peace agreement” between Colombia and the FARC rebels. Reuters reported that the deal is aimed at ending “a 50-year-old guerrilla war, one of the world’s longest conflicts.”

While Colombia still has a long way to go to achieve lasting peace – I understand the deal still needs approval by the people in a referendum – the end to the armed conflict will encourage investment and spur economic growth.

Our insurgency is almost approaching 50 years, making it the longest in Asia. But despite negotiations stagnating in the past years, the inauguration of a new administration has resurrected our hopes that the Communist rebellion will finally end.

As the peace talks in Colombia ended successfully last week, our own peace negotiations with the CPP officially started in Oslo, Norway. The government of the Philippines negotiating panel, led by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, are meeting with their counterpart, led by Jose Maria Sison and leftist leaders who were released in a confidence-building gesture by the new President.

Dureza was quoted by news reports as saying that, despite the fact that the last formal talks were five years ago and that previous talks had bogged down, “there is a new element: the Duterte presidency”.

I have met with President Duterte a few times and the strongest impression that I got was that he is a very sincere and transparent individual. You may disagree with him but he is the kind of person who says what he means and means what he says.

Peace negotiations, I believe, are a question of trust. Simply put, one cannot talk about putting an end to the conflict if you do not trust the person you are facing across the table. And I am glad that trust seems to be present between President Duterte and Mr. Sison.

That is not to say that the talks will be smooth sailing all throughout. There is a lot of issues that need to be threshed out. But that is precisely why trust is critical. Despite contentious issues, talks have a small chance of bogging down if both parties trust each other. On the other hand, if trust is absent, even a small issue can cause a breakdown in the negotiations.

This trust will help a lot in fulfilling the President’s commitment to bring about “a definitive and final peace settlement within six to 12 months.” Peace with the Communist rebels was one of the five issues I identified during the May, 2016, election campaign.

Peace is crucial especially to countryside development. Imagine the potential for prosperity for our people once both parties stop the armed conflict. The end to the armed conflict can provide much-needed development in the country’s rural areas.

I am glad that at the end of the first round of talks in Oslo, both parties declared an indefinite ceasefire in order to facilitate further negotiations. I understand that both camps will meet again in October this year.

Good luck and kudos to the government panel which also includes former Agrarian Reform Secretary Hernani Braganza, former Commission on Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, and Attorneys Angela Librado Trinidad and Antonio Arellano. Same goes to the negotiators from the CPP, led by NDF Chairman Luis Jalandoni, Fidel Agcaoili, Connie Ledesma, Asterio Palima, and Juliet de Lima Sison. Let us also thank the government of Norway for hosting the talks.

I ask our kababayan to support the peace negotiations not just with the CPP-NDF-NPA but with the Muslim secessionist movement as well.

(For comments/feedback, send e-mail to mbv.secretariat@gmail.com or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph)
(Senator Manny Villar)